Chicago Bears center Cody Whitehair has hit a sophomore slump. Could this have been prevented?
Cody Whitehair’s second season has been nowhere near as inspiring as his rookie campaign. We have seen everything from issues with the snap, to assignments, to straight up physical performance. You have to wonder what the issue is. Sure, you can call it your typical sophomore slump and write it off. Still, given the way this season has played out, it is fair to question whether or not the Bears coaching staff deserves some responsibility for this fall off.
Cody Whitehair moved around the offensive line at Kansas State. He played right and left tackle and even played some left guard. However, he never played center. He projected physically to be an NFL center, but it was a surprise to everyone to see how fast Whitehair was able to pick the position up when he was thrown into the fire due to an injury to Hronis Grasu.
It did not take long until the Chicago Bears should have realized that they had the center of their future on their hands. Center is an underrated piece, but to have a trusted one is a huge advantage. However, entering his second offseason, and first, where he was truly recognized as a starting center, the Bears decided to mess with Whitehair’s trajectory.
Kyle Long was rehabbing from ankle surgery all offseason. Eric Kush performed well when Long went down in 2016, and the Bears anticipated that he would be their swing guard moving forward. However, an early injury to Kush forced the Bears hand to make a tough call. Many speculated that with Grasu back, being a true center, and Whitehair having experience at guard, that this could be the short term move to fill
in for Long. Other options included Grasu, who has never played guard at that spot on the line, keeping Whitehair is in place, or they could try to move Tom Compton, a tackle with limited guard experience inside. They tried a bit of everything but wound up mainly keeping Whitehair at center, and sliding Compton in at guard.
Still, what should have been an offseason taking a step forward at a position Whitehair won the season before, he is now taking time learning a position he has never played in case of emergency situations. Yes, he played some left guard at Kansas State, but there are still differences between right and left guard. Try kicking a ball with your dominant foot versus your weaker. It is the same idea.
This may have played into issues in the preseason for Whitehair that carried into the regular season. The practice repetitions add up. As the season progressed, he began to play a bit more consistent heading into the bye week. With a full week to reset and gear up for a big second half at center, the team again threw right guard at him again. Kyle Long was active and tried to play but it was not in the books for him in Week 10. An injury to Hronis Grasu changed their thoughts of moving Whitehair to guard in the preseason, but in the midst of the season, the Bears made the move. They now got worse at two offensive line spots instead of one due to the loss of Long.
Whitehair played uninspired and played like he was out of position, which he was. He was beaten in the run game.
He was beaten in the passing game, allowing a pressure that resulted in an incompletion on third down.
It was not a great game for Whitehair. Still, you have to wonder not only how this game, but this season would have gone had Whitehair been cast in stone as the center of the future, a position that requires repetition, and continuity. There is a reason that the two healthiest offensive lines in the NFL made it to the Super Bowl last season. Continuity on the offensive line is huge.
The Bears lost in Week 10 with Whitehair at guard. Whitehair is not better at center than he was a week before. Absolutely nothing was accomplished by this move. Sure you can shake off a bad second year, but you have to wonder what could have been had that second year featured a leap forward.